For some time now, I’ve mulled starting a new “Whirled Views” feature that highlights some young (and some ‘not-so-young’) friends of mine who are in the ministry. I have two categories that I want to highlight.
There are some amazing servants and leaders with whom I’ve crossed paths over the years who have added something to my life, my thinking, my ‘world view’ or simply have been an encouragement when I needed it. Many of these have been peers and others have been mentors. Some have been on my staff and others have simply being acquaintances with whom I’ve spent a few hours, but in those hours they touched my life. Some weeks, I want to introduce you to them with the idea that you might connect with them sometime or simply as my way of acknowledging the blessing that they have been to me.
The other category will include young people (some of them are no longer “young”, except in relation to me) who were in my church, in my classroom or in some other way crossed my path when they were children or teens and who are now serving the Lord around the world. These young leaders represent to me, the most important facet of my ministry on a very personal level. Whether due to one-on-one time with them or simply from a distance, the Lord gave me an opportunity to see them mature, put my 2 cents worth in to their life from time-to-time and be a part of their preparation for spiritual leadership on some level.
I’ll begin by introducing you to someone who is already in heaven but who had an impact on me that remains significant to this day.
I became a senior pastor at the tender age of 29. I never expected to be a pastor, quite frankly. At the time of my transition, I was a school headmaster who taught a fairly large young married class in our church. When our senior pastor announced that he was leaving to take a high-profile church in Southern California, a rapid, 3-week series of events occurred which completed with my selection to be the next senior pastor of Berean Baptist Church in West Palm Beach.
To say I was “in over my head” from the first day was an under-statement. How those dear folks put up with me those first few years of my pastorate is a mystery to me. I was just coming out of crippling legalism, was so young and inexperienced and we were facing some fairly substantial issues within the church that would have been terrifying if I had possessed good sense at the time. At the same time, the church suddenly exploded with growth. We went from a couple of hundred to over five hundred in just a matter of a year or two. We were having to adjust and re-invent ourselves almost constantly.
During this time, I needed someone to listen to me. Someone older and kinder and gentler and experienced. We had a guy in our church, Mark Standridge, whose dad was a pastor in Ohio. His church wasn’t huge, the town was fairly small, few people outside of his area knew of him, but he demonstrated the kind of Godly consistency and balance that I needed in my life. So the next time he was in town, we went to breakfast together at Bageland in Royal Palm Beach.
His name was James (Jim) Standridge. A godly, consistent guy who loved God and loved people. If I remember correctly, He pastored Cook Road Baptist Church in Mansfield, Ohio. (If that’s not correct, someone please let me know.) We made a connection the first time we met and he promised me that we could meet anytime he was in town just to “talk”. He’d listen to me vent and rail and patiently answered my questions and would wisely challenge some of my flawed thinking. He had suffered from cancer, but seemed to be doing well, when it re-occurred. I don’t remember how many times we ended up meeting, I just remember how much I appreciated that he would take a young pup like me under his wing and let me be “real” with him for an hour or two every so often. His son, Mark, was so gracious to let me have a morning with him often when he was in town and I know that any time he had with his dad was precious — so this was no small sacrifice for him.
The Lord finally called Pastor Standridge home. I have always felt like it was appropriate to honor God’s elders when they transition from mortality to immortality and so I decided to go to the funeral. I did not realize it would be a life-changing experience for me.
To my surprise, when I arrived there, the family asked me to say a few words and pray at the funeral. I was so honored and never anticipated that I would be invited to do so. I ended up sitting on the platform during the service. As the service began, something unusual occurred. A line of men — young and not-so-young began streaming down the aisle where they each paused for a moment at the casket. They then proceeded onto the platform and took seats in the choir loft. Man after man after man, made their way in this final march of respect. Some wept. Others smiled. Many had traveled a distance to be there. Soon, the loft was filled to over-flowing.
What did these men have in common? They had all been under Pastor Standridge’s leadership over the years. He was their pastor, their mentor, their friend. I’m not sure how many were there, but those that were there represented many others who could not be there due to distance and schedule. As the service began, it was explained that these men were in the ministry because of how the Lord has used Pastor Jim Standridge over the years.
I was moved beyond words. Small town pastor. No books had his name on their binding to my knowledge. He wasn’t famous nor infamous. Just a faithful, quiet, loyal, diligent pastor. But the fruit that he had left behind among these men, some of whom he had personally lead to the Lord, was myriad and if we were to be honest, was far more substantial that some “celebrity” preachers I’ve known.
I know for a fact that Pastor Standridge had gone through some very tough times as a pastor. He had known betrayal and heartbreak. He had been hurt and challenged. But during this hour, we remembered that God loves to use regular people to do amazing things for His glory.
As the funeral unfolded, I asked God that someday, when it would be me laying in a box at some church or funeral home somewhere, that I might have a few people that had crossed my path that might say, “He made a difference in my life as He followed Christ.” From that day to this, I’ve tried to take time to mentor or encourage or in some small way challenge young servants to give their best to the Lord with consistency and faithfulness.
I’m not sure at this point that anyone will remember me in the way that Jim Standridge was remembered and that really doesn’t matter to me anymore. What does matter to me is the joy that I feel when I see the Lord call young people out of the churches or classrooms where I’ve ministered and to use them in some pretty incredible ways. To have a few moments in their lives in which I can interact or challenge or encourage them is one of the most rewarding parts of my life in ministry.
I’m so grateful for Jim Standridge that he was to me in life and in death and even now in eternity. He thoroughly “sharpened by iron” over and over again. On Fridays in the future, I want to introduce you to some more of my friends who have done the same to me or with whom the Lord has allowed me to enjoy some time as a friend, pastor or mentor and perhaps by doing so, some of you will commit to making the difference in someone’s life or that you will express appreciation to someone who has done that for you.
As always, feel free to share your stories in the comment section.